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2 Regina hoopers part of Canadian squad competing in last-chance Paralympic qualifier next week

Eight men's wheelchair basketball teams, including Canada, will be in Antibes, France, next week vying to claim one of the last four spots available for the 2024 Paris Paralympic Games.

Two of the athletes competing for the red and white — Nik Goncin and Garrett Ostepchuk — are from Regina.

For Goncin, this is far from the first go-around. Having been a senior national team athlete since 2013, and a current co-captain, this would be his third Paralympics should the team qualify. He credits much of his athletic and personal development to the time he spent honing his craft in Saskatchewan gyms.

"Everybody likes this underdog story," Goncin said. "Being from Saskatchewan, because it's such a small province population-wise, it's been an underdog mentality to make the team and compete at this level. And I absolutely savour that feeling. I love being that. I love trying to prove that we're small but mighty."

The last chance qualifier, known as the repechage tournament, is high stakes for the Canadian team. They've featured in the sport since before the Paralympics existed, competing at what was then known as the Stoke Mandeville Games in the U.K. While the team dominated in the early 2000s, winning three golds and a silver from 2000 to 2012, they have had a harder time as of late, finishing eighth in Tokyo.

There's an added procedural wrinkle this time around. Unlike previous editions of wheelchair basketball at the Paralympics, the field has shrunk to eight teams from 12. Goncin said he expects an elite level of competition to be on display with so much on the line.

"Ten years ago we probably had, let's say, four to six teams that were fighting for those top spots. Now, we have worlds where we have 16 teams, and I'd say 14,